Let me tell you about one of the best things I’ve recently put in my mouth.
Naturally, it contained garlicky butter. But it also contained a few wonderful simple other things, and it was served at the bistro at the Cambridge Cookery School.
I’m not even talking about this sandwich, and it’s a great sandwich.
The bistro boasts “a strong Scandinavian and Italian influence”, as well as the customary local/sustainable/organic/crafted gubbins. While this sounded like fun, it did not prepare me for the Turkish Eggs. But I’ll get to that.
Just off Oxford Street, you’ll find Cookery School – two bright, well-equipped kitchen/classrooms, right in the centre of London. As I’m taking a few days off to recover from some exciting/stressful Adulting, I decided to book myself onto their “Ultimate Fish and Shellfish” course on Saturday.
It was great. I cooked things I’d not cooked before, met some lovely folks, and dismantled a fine selection of water critters.
The course is about six hours, with lots of hands-on time, and an eye-popping quantity of things to eat at the end. It’s a rich, full day for brain and stomach. You can tell, because they kept me too busy to take any pictures. Also, we were reminded, smartphones are filthy. Hand washing was (correctly) mandatory after Instagramming.
All the images here are things I came home and cooked from the course, but if you want to get a feel, there’s some great food (and action shots) on Cookery School’s own Instagram feed.
Osteria Waggon and Horses* is in Milton. As the city grows out to meet it, that’s almost, a bit, if you squint, close enough to say that Cambridge finally has somewhere worth going for Italian food.
Crikey, that’s been a long time coming.
Inside, it’s bright and airy with a little lounge area, and just a few bits of pub poking through. Yes, it says, this is a restaurant, but by all means have a drink – it’s not fussy. That’s the mood. Osteria was friendly, sociable, and delicious.
The menu’s simple, a few things to each course, the way I like it, and front-loaded with a range of little aperitivi to share. You could easily linger over plenty of those and a bottle or two of crisp white on a nice summer evening, before moving on to some pasta. That’s more or less what we did.
Sushi elevates the useful cliché of little things counting for a lot to raison d’être. Perfect little touches are the whole deal. Sticks n Sushi served us pretty damn good sushi, but they delighted us up front with the best edamame beans I’ve eaten. Lightly seasoned, and grilled to bring out the savoury, these were just everything you want from a sushi appetizer, and they set the tone for a meal of quality produce with considered touches.
Sticks n Sushi has been open for a little over a month, but scheduling shenanigans mean I’ve only just managed to get there. While they’re new in Cambridge, they’ve been going for twenty-two years, have twelve branches in Copenhagen, and another four in London. The deal is a slight sushi modernization, yakitori on the side, without recourse to overbearing fusion.
This weekend we were up in Leeds for the Thought Bubble comics festival (podcast here). Even when it isn’t full of enthusiastic nerds Leeds is a fun city. It’s got some storming places to drink beer, a lively (and growing) food scene, and since 2014 it’s had Bundobust.
This is one of the best places I’ve eaten all year.
It’s also – and get this – completely vegetarian. In fact, it’s often vegan. How cool is that? Packed to the gills in Leeds centre, serving eclectic veggie street food and exciting beer that puts some of my Soho favourites to hide-under-a-rock levels of shame.
Reynard is a trickster figure, a Loki-ish fox dude from Medieval picaresque. “Renard” is the French word for fox. Foxes are of course iconically partial to a spot of chicken, and Reys is a rotisserie chicken restaurant that’s gone in hard on the impish vulpine branding. All orange and jaunty furnishings, the chairs have foxtail stripes. That’s certainly cuter than blood and feathers in the henhouse.
They sell roast chicken. It tastes like good roast chicken, and it doesn’t cost too much.
Everything else is just a little peculiar. There’s this slight Korean edge running through the menu that doesn’t quite sit with the Ikea farmhouse ambience, never really explained. The starters are cursory. But the chicken is fine. It just all doesn’t quite make sense.
Inder’s Kitchen is – for my money – the best place to eat Indian food in Cambridge. Let’s just get that out of the way.
They’re great. They’ve been going for about five years, and I remember being delighted when they started – it felt fresh to have a more high-end, home cooking inspired take on Indian food available, something to offset the curry house archetype.
Now, I love a classic Anglo-Indian cliche curry, but they’re not exactly magical feats of foregrounding single interesting flavours. Inder’s hits that spot – the food isn’t greasy, it tastes fresh and intricate, and it goes beyond (while sometimes including) the korma/dhansak/vindaloo etc standards.
Despite only doing takeaway, Inder’s has always tried to diversify a bit – they’ve had a food van, tried chilled-to-reheat and frozen, and started making sauces and chutneys. And that’s how I found myself in their industrial unit kitchen, trying their latest venture: a set of curry kits to make at home.
I don’t do a lot of PR gigs. Not, you understand, because I have any kind of ethical framework. It’s more that recent offers have tended to be either “bake this and tweet about it” (yawn), or something genuinely interesting I can’t make because my calendar is a car crash.
Then I got an email asking if I’d like to try “the UK’s first cook from frozen soufflé”, as part of Iceland’s new autumn range.
I know, right? A total disaster, obviously. I’ll get a funny story and a free lunch. Sweet.
Canadian wine. It’s not really a phrase to set the world on fire, is it?
The thing is, when you’re on the same basic latitude as most of Burgundy – with a lake shore microclimate that keeps the air warm and fresh – you’ve got a shot at belting out some serious grapes. Pinot Noir, Riesling, Cabernet Franc, a bit of Chardonnay – it’s all going on around the Niagara Escarpment. There’s Syrah and Gamay in the mix, too; not to mention the funky hybrids and the icewine. No, Ontario’s got a lot going for it as wine growing country, and the actual oenology is getting serious.
In 2011 we visited wineries around Lake Erie, and were not wowed. In 2015, we spent three days tasting around the Niagara Peninsula. Four years had passed, and the grapes we saw on the vine in 2011 were now on sale in bottles. We hit a different region, one or two more up-scale wineries, and had a knowledgeable local guide. That is to say: I don’t honestly know if the wine has got better, or if we were just drinking better wine, but it was pretty great.